The King's Grave, by Selma Lagerlof
It was at the time of year when the heather is red. It grew over
the sand-hills in thick clumps. From low tree-like stems
close-growing green branches raised their hardy ever-green leaves
and unfading flowers. They seemed not to be made of ordinary, juicy
flower substance, but of dry, hard scales. They were very
insignificant in size and shape; nor was their fragrance of much
account. Children of the open moors, they had not unfolded in the
still air where lilies open their alabaster petals; nor did they
grow in the rich soil from which roses draw nourishment for their
swelling crowns. What made them flowers was really their color, for
they were glowing red. They had received the color-giving sunshine
in plenty. They were no pallid cellar growth; the blessed gaiety
and strength of health lay over all the blossoming heath.
The heather covered the bare fields with its red mantle up to the
edge of the wood. There, on a gently sloping ridge, stood some
ancient, half ruined stone cairns; and however closely the heather
tried to creep to these, there were always rents in its web,
through which were visible great, flat rocks, folds in the
mountain's own rough skin. Under the biggest of these piles rested
an old king, Atle by name. Under the others slumbered those of his
warriors who had fallen when the great battle raged on the moor.
They had lain there now so long that the fear and respect of death
had departed from their graves. The path ran between their
resting-places. The wanderer by night never thought to look whether
forms wrapped in mist sat at midnight on the tops of the cairns
staring in silent longing at the stars.
It was a glittering morning, dewy and warm. The hunter who had been
out since daybreak had thrown himself down in the heather behind
King Atle's pile. He lay on his back and slept. He had dragged his
hat down over his eyes; and under his head lay his leather
game-bag, out of which protruded a hare's long ears and the bent
tail-feathers of a black-cock. His bow and arrows lay beside him.
From out of the wood came a girl with a bundle in her hand. When
she reached the flat rock between the piles of stones, she thought
what a good place it would be to dance. She was seized with an
ardent desire to try. She laid her bundle on the heather and began
to dance quite alone. She had no idea that a man lay asleep behind
the king's cairn.
The hunter still slept. The heather showed burning red against the
deep blue of the sky. An anthill stood close beside the sleeper. On
it lay a piece of quartz, which sparkled as if it had wished to set
fire to all the old stubble of the heath. Above the hunter's head
the black-cock feathers spread out like a plume, and their
iridescence shifted from deep purple to steely blue. On the
unshaded part of his face the burning sunshine glowed. But he did
not open his eyes to look at the glory of the morning.
In the meanwhile the girl continued to dance, and whirled about so
eagerly that the blackened moss which had collected in the
unevennesses of the rocks flew about her. An old, dry fir root,
smooth and gray with age, lay upturned among the heather. She took
it and whirled about with it. Chips flew out from the mouldering
wood. Centipedes and earwigs that had lived in the crevices
scurried out head over heels into the luminous air and bored down
among the roots of the heather.
When the swinging skirts grazed the heather, clouds of small grey
butterflies fluttered up from it. The under side of their wings was
white and silvery and they whirled like dry leaves in a squall.
They then seemed quite white, and it was as if a red sea threw up
white foam. The butterflies remained for a short time in the air.
Their fragile wings fluttered so violently that the down loosened
and fell like thin silver white feathers. The air seemed to be
filled with a glorified mist.
On the heath grasshoppers sat and scraped their back legs against
their wings, so that they sounded like harp strings. They kept good
time and played so well together, that to any one passing over the
moor it sounded like the same grasshopper during the whole walk,
although it seemed to be first on the right, then on the left; now
in front, now behind. But the dancer was not content with their
playing and began after a little while to hum the measure of a
dance tune. Her voice was shrill and harsh. The hunter was waked by
the song. He turned on his side, raised himself to his elbow, and
looked over the pile of stones at the dancing girl.
He had dreamt that the hare which he had just killed had leaped out
of the bag and had taken his own arrows to shoot at him. He now
stared at the girl half awake, dizzy with his dream, his head
burning from sleeping in the sun.
She was tall and coarsely built, not fair of face, nor light in the
dance, nor tuneful in her song. She had broad cheeks, thick lips
and a flat nose. She had very red cheeks, very dark hair. She was
exuberant in figure, moving with vigor and life. Her clothes were
shabby but bright in color. Red bands edged the striped skirt and
bright colored worsted fringes outlined the seams of her bodice.
Other young maidens resemble roses and lilies, but she was like the
heather, strong, gay and glowing.
The hunter watched with pleasure as the big, splendid woman danced
on the red heath among the playing grasshoppers and the fluttering
butterflies. While he looked at her he laughed so that his mouth
was drawn up towards his ears. But then she suddenly caught sight
of him and stood motionless.
"I suppose you think I am mad," was the first thing that occurred
to her to say. At the same time she wondered how she would get him
to hold his tongue about what he had seen. She did not care to hear
it told down in the village that she had danced with a fir root.
He was a man poor in words. Not a syllable could he utter. He was
so shy that he could think of nothing better than to run away,
although he longed to stay. Hastily he got his hat on his head and
his leather bag on his back. Then he ran away through the clumps of
She snatched up her bundle and ran after him. He was small, stiff
in his movements and evidently had very little strength. She soon
caught up with him and knocked his hat off to induce him to stop.
He really wished to do so, but he was confused with shyness and
fled with still greater speed. She ran after him and began to pull
at his game-bag. Then he had to stop to defend it. She fell upon
him with all her strength. They fought, and she threw him to the
ground. "Now he will not speak of it to any one," she thought, and
At the same moment, however, she grew sick with fright, for the man
who lay on the ground turned livid and his eyes rolled inwards in
his head. He was not hurt in any way, however. He could not bear
emotion. Never before had so strong and conflicting feelings
stirred within that lonely forest dweller. He rejoiced over the
girl and was angry and ashamed and yet proud that she was so
strong. He was quite out of his head with it all.
The big, strong girl put her arm under his back and lifted him up.
She broke the heather and whipped his face with the stiff twigs
until the blood came back to it. When his little eyes again turned
towards the light of day, they shone with pleasure at the sight of
her. He was still silent; but he drew forward the hand which she
had placed about his waist and caressed it gently.
He was a child of starvation and early toil. He was dry and pallid,
thin and anaemic. She was touched by his faintheartedness; he who
nevertheless seemed to be about thirty years old. She thought that
he must live quite alone in the forest since he was so pitiful and
so meanly dressed. He could have no one to look after him, neither
mother nor sister nor sweetheart.
The great compassionate forest spread over the wilderness.
Concealing and protecting, it took to its heart everything which
sought its help. With its lofty trunks it kept watch by the lair of
the fox and the bear, and in the twilight of the thick bushes it
hid the egg-filled nests of little birds.
At the time when people still had slaves, many of them escaped to
the woods and found shelter behind its green walls. It became a
great prison for them which they did not dare to leave. The forest
held its prisoners in strict discipline. It forced the dull ones to
use their wits and educated those ruined by slavery to order and
honor. Only to the industrious did it give the right to live.
The two who met on the heath were descendants of such prisoners of
the forest. They sometimes went down to the inhabited, cultivated
valleys, for they no longer feared to be reduced to the slavery
from which their forefathers had fled, but they were happiest in
the dimness of the forest. The hunter's name was T?ne. His real
work was to cultivate the earth, but he also could do other things.
He collected herbs, boiled tar, dried punk, and often went hunting.
The dancer was called Jofrid. Her father was a charcoal burner. She
tied brooms, picked juniper berries and brewed ale of the
white-flowering myrtle. They were both very poor.
They had never met before in the big wood, but now they thought
that all its paths wound into a net, in which they ran forward and
back and could not possibly escape one another. They never knew how
to choose a way where they did not meet.
T?ne had once had a great sorrow. He had lived with his mother for
a long while in a miserable, wattled but, but as soon as he was
grown up he was seized with the idea to build her a warm cabin.
During all his leisure moments he went into the clearing, cut down
trees and hewed them into squared pieces. Then he hid the timber in
dark crannies under moss and branches. It was his intention that
his mother should not know anything of all this work before he was
ready to build the house. But his mother died before he could show
her what he had collected; before he had time to tell her what he
had wished to do. He, who had worked with the same zeal as David,
King of Israel, when he gathered treasures for the temple of God,
grieved most bitterly over it. He lost all interest in the
building. For him the brushwood shelter was good enough. Yet he was
hardly better off in his home than an animal in its hole.
When he, who had always heretofore crept about alone, was now
seized with the desire to seek Jofrid's company, it certainly meant
that he would like to have her for his sweetheart and his bride.
Jofrid also waited daily for him to speak to her father or to
herself about the matter. But T?ne could not. This showed that he
was of a race of slaves. The thoughts that came into his head moved
as slowly as the sun when he travels across the sky. And it was
more difficult for him to shape those thoughts to connected speech
than for a smith to forge a bracelet out of rolling grains of sand.
One day T?ne took Jofrid to one of the clefts, where he had hidden
his timber. He pulled aside the branches and moss and showed her
the squared beams. "That was to have been mother's house," he said.
The young girl was strangely slow in understanding a young man's
thoughts. When he showed her his mother's logs she ought to have
understood, but she did not understand.
Then he decided to make his meaning even plainer. A few days later
he began to drag the logs up to the place between the cairns, where
he had seen Jofrid for the first time. She came as usual along the
path and saw him at work. Nevertheless she went on without saying
anything. Since they had become friends she had often given him a
good handshake, but she did not seem to want to help him with the
heavy work. T?ne still thought that she ought to have understood
that it was now her house which he meant to build.
She understood it very well, but she had no desire to give herself
to such a man as T?ne. She wished to have a strong and healthy
husband. She thought it would be a poor livelihood to marry any one
who was weak and dull. Still, there was much which drew her to that
silent, shy man. She thought how hard he had worked to gladden his
mother and had not enjoyed the happiness of being ready in time.
She could weep for his sake. And now he was building the house just
where he had seen her dance. He had a good heart. And that
interested her and fixed her thoughts on him, but she did not at
all wish to marry him.
Every day she went over the heather field and saw the log cabin
grow, miserable and without windows, with the sunlight filtering in
through the leaky walls.
T?ne's work progressed very quickly, but not with care. His
timbers were not bent square, the lark was scarcely taken off. He
laid the floor with split young trees. It was uneven and shaky. The
heather, which grew and blossomed under it,?for at year had passed
since the day when T?ne had lain aleep behind King Atle's pile,?
pushed up bold red clusters through the cracks, and ants without
number wandered out and in, inspecting the fragile work of man.
Wherever Jofrid went during those days, the thought never left her
that a house was being built for her there. A home was being
prepared for her upon the heath. And she knew that if she did not
enter there as mistress, the bear and the fox would make it their
home. For she knew T?ne well enough to understand that if he found
he had worked in vain, he would never move into the new house. He
would weep, poor man, when he heard that she would not live there.
It would be a new sorrow for him, as deep as when his mother died.
But he had himself to blame, because he had not asked her in time.
She thought that she gave him a sufficient hint in not helping him
with the house. She often felt impelled to do so. Every time she
saw any soft, white moss, she wanted to pick it to fill in the
leaky walls. She longed, too, to help T?ne to build the chimney.
As he was making it, all the smoke would gather in the house. But
it did not matter how it was. No food would ever be cooked there,
no ale brewed. Still it was odious that the house would never leave
T?ne worked, glowing with eagerness, certain that Jofrid would
understand his meaning, if only the house were ready. He did not
wonder much about her; he had enough to do to hew and shape. The
days went quickly for him.
One afternoon, when Jofrid came over the moor, she saw that there
was a door in the cottage and a slab of stone for a threshold. Then
she understood that everything must now be ready, and she was much
agitated. T?ne had covered the roof with tufts of flowering
heather, and she was seized by an intense longing to enter under
that red roof. He was not at the new house and she decided to go
in. The house was built for her. It was her home. It was not
possible to resist the desire to see it.
Within it was more attractive than she had expected. Rushes were
strewed over the floor. It was full of the fresh fragrance of pine
and resin. The sunshine that played through the windows and cracks
made bands of light through the air. It looked as if she had been
expected; in the crannies of the wall green branches were stuck,
and in the fireplace stood a newly cut fir-tree. T?ne had not
moved in his old furniture. There was nothing but a new table and a
bench, over which an elk skin was thrown.
As soon as Jofrid had crossed the threshold, she felt the pleasant
cosiness of home surrounding her. She was happy and content while
she stood there, but to leave it seemed to her as hard as to go
away and serve strangers. It happened that Jofrid had expended much
hard work in procuring a kind of dower for herself. With skilful
hands she had woven bright colored fabrics, such as are used to
adorn a room, and she wanted to put them up in her own home, when
she got one. Now she wondered how those cloths would look here. She
wished she could try them in the new house.
She hurried quickly home, fetched her roll of weavings and began to
fasten the bright-colored pieces of cloth up under the roof. She
threw open the door to let the big setting sun shine on her and her
work. She moved eagerly about the cottage, brisk, gay, bumming a
merry tune. She was perfectly happy. It looked so fine. The woven
roses and stars shone as never before.
While she worked she kept a good look-out over the moor and the
graves, for it seemed to her as if T?ne might now too be lying
hidden behind one of the cairns and laughing at her. The king's
grave lay opposite the door and behind it she saw the sun setting.
Time after time she looked out. She felt as if some one was sitting
there and watching her.
Just as the sun was so low that only a few blood-red beams filtered
over the old stone heap, she saw who it was who was watching her.
The whole pile of stones was no longer stones, but a mighty, old
warrior, who was sitting there, scarred and gray, and staring at
her. Round about his head the rays of the sun made a crown, and his
red mantle was so wide that it spread over the whole moor. His head
was big and heavy, his face gray as stone. His clothes and weapons
were also stone-colored, and repeated so exactly the shadings and
mossiness of the rock, that one had to look closely to see that it
was a warrior and not a pile of stones. It was like those insects
which resemble tree-twigs. One can go by them twenty times before
one sees that it is a soft animal body one has taken for hard wood.
But Jofrid could no longer be mistaken. It was the old King Atle
himself sitting there. She stood in the doorway, shaded her eyes
with her hand, and looked right into his stony face. He had very
small, oblique eyes under a dome-like brow, a broad nose and a long
beard. And he was alive, that man of stone. He smiled and winked at
her. She was afraid, and what terrified her most of all were his
thick, muscular arms and hairy hands. The longer she looked at him
the broader grew his smile, and at last he lifted one of his mighty
arms to beckon her to him. Then Jofrid took flight towards home.
But when T?ne came home and saw the housc adorned with starry
weavings, he found courage to send a friend to Jofrid's father. The
latter asked Jofrid what she thought about it and she gave her
consent. She was well pleased with the way it had turned out, even
if she had been half forced to give her hand. She could not say no
to the man, to whose house she had already carried her dower. Still
she looked first to see that old King Atle had again become a pile
T?ne and Jofrid lived happily for many years. They earned a good
reputation. "They are good," people said. "See how they stand by
one another, see how they work together, see how one cannot live
apart from the other!"
T?ne grew stronger, more enduring and less heavy-witted every day.
Jofrid seemed to have made a whole man of him. Almost always he let
her rule, but he also understood how to carry out his own will with
Jests and merriment followed Jofrid wherever she went. Her clothes
became more vivid the older she grew. Her whole face was bright
red. But in T?ne's eyes she was beautiful.
They were not so poor as many others of their class. They ate
butter with their porridge and mixed neither bran nor bark in their
bread. Myrtle ale foamed in their tankards. Their flocks of sheep
and goats increased so quickly that they could allow themselves
T?ne once worked for a peasant in the valley. The latter, who saw
how he and his wife worked together with great gaiety, thought like
many another: "See, these are good people."
The peasant had lately lost his wife, and she had left behind her a
child six months old. He asked T?ne and Jofrid to take his son as
"The child is very dear to me," he said, "therefore I give it to
you, for you are good people."
They had no children of their own, so that it seemed very fitting
for them to take it. They accepted it too without hesitation. They
thought it would be to their advantage to bring up a peasant's
child, besides which they expected to be cheered in their old age
by their foster-son.
But the child did not live to grow up with them. Before the year
was out it was dead. It was said by many that it was the fault of
the foster-parents, for the child had been unusually strong before
it came to them. By that no one meant, however, that they had
killed it intentionally, but rather that they had undertaken
something beyond their powers. They had not had sense or love
enough to give it the care it needed. They were accustomed only to
think of themselves and to look out for themselves. They had no
time to care for a child. They wished to go together to their work
every day and to sleep a quiet sleep at night. They thought that
the child drank too much of their good milk and did not allow him
as much as themselves. They had no idea that they were treating the
boy badly. They thought that they were just as tender to him as
parents generally are. It seemed more to them as if their
foster-son had been a punishment and a torment. They did not mourn
him when he died.
Women usually enjoy nothing better than to take care of a child;
but Jofrid had a husband, whom she often had to care for like a
mother, so that she desired no one else. They also love to see
their children's quick growth; but Jofrid had pleasure enough in
watching T?ne develop sense and manliness, in adorning and taking
care of her house, in the increase of their flocks, and in the
crops which they were raising below on the moor.
Jofrid went to the peasant's farm and told him that the child was
dead. Then the man said: "I am like the man who puts cushions in
his bed so soft that he sinks down to the hard bottom. I wished to
care too well for my son, and look, now he is dead!" And he was
At his words Jofrid began to weep bitterly. "Would to God that you
had not left your son with us!" she said. "We were too poor. He
could not get what he needed with us."
"That is not what I meant," answered the peasant. "I believe that
you have over-indulged the child. But I will not accuse any one,
for over life and death God alone rules. Now I mean to celebrate
the funeral of my only son with the same expense as if he had been
full grown, and to the feast I invite both T?ne and you. By that
you may know that I bear you no grudge."
So T?ne and Jofrid went to the funeral banquet. They were well
treated, and no one said anything unfriendly to them. The women who
had dressed the child's body had related that it had been miserably
thin and had borne marks of great neglect. But that could easily
come from sickness. No one wished to believe anything bad about the
foster-parents, for it was known that they were good people.
Jofrid wept a great deal during those days, especially when she
heard the women tell how they had to wake and toil for their little
children. She noticed, too, that the women at the funeral were
continually talking of their children. Some rejoiced so in them
that they never could stop telling of their questions and games.
Jofrid would have liked to have talked about T?ne, but most of
them never spoke of their husbands.
Late one evening Jofrid and T?ne came home from the festivities.
They went straight to bed. But hardly had they fallen asleep before
they were waked by a feeble crying. "It is the child," they
thought, still half asleep, and were angry at being disturbed. But
suddenly both of them sat right up in the bed. The child was dead.
Where did that crying come from? When they were quite awake, they
heard nothing, but as soon as they began to drop off to sleep they
heard it. Little, tottering feet sounded on the stone threshold
outside the house, a little hand groped for the door, and when it
could not open it, the child crept crying and feeling along the
wall, until it stopped just outside where they were sleeping. As
soon as they spoke or sat up, they perceived nothing; but when they
tried to sleep, they distinctly heard the uncertain steps and the
That which they had not wished to believe, but which seemed a
possibility during these last days, now became a certainty. They
felt that they had killed the child. Why otherwise should it have
the power to haunt them?
From that night all happiness left them. They lived in constant
fear of the ghost. By day they had some peace, but at night they
were so disturbed by the child's weeping and choking sobs, that
they did not dare to sleep alone. Jofrid often went long distances
to get some one to stop over night in their house. If there was any
stranger there, it was quiet, but as soon as they were alone, they
heard the child.
One night, when they had found no one to keep them company and
could not sleep for the child, Jofrid got up from her bed.
"You sleep, T?ne," she said. "If I keep awake, we will not hear
She went out and sat down on the doorstep, thinking of what they
ought to do to get peace, for they could not go on living as things
were. She wondered if confession and penance and mortification and
repentance could relieve them from this heavy punishment.
Then it happened that she raised her eyes and saw the same vision
as once before from this place. The pile of stones had changed to a
warrior. The night was quite dark, but still she could plainly see
that old King Atle sat there and watched her. She saw him so well
that she could distinguish the moss-grown bracelets on his wrists
and could see how his legs were bound with crossed bands, between
which his calf muscles swelled.
This time she was not afraid of the old man. He seemed to be a
friend and consoler in her unhappiness. He looked at her with pity,
as if he wished to give her courage. Then she thought that the
mighty warrior had once had his day, when he had overthrown
hundreds of enemies there on the heath and waded through the
streams of blood that had poured between the clumps. What had he
thought of one dead man more or less? How much would the sight of
children, whose fathers he had killed, have moved his heart of
stone? Light as air would the burden of a child's death have rested
on his conscience.
And she heard his whisper, the same which the old stone-cold
heathenism had whispered through all time. "Why repent? The gods
rule us. The fates spin the threads of life. Why shall the children
of earth mourn because they have done what the immortal gods have
forced them to do?"
Then Jofrid took courage and said to herself: "How am I to blame
because the child died? It is God alone who decides. Nothing takes
place without his will." And she thought that she could lay the
ghost by putting all repentance from her.
But now the door opened and T?ne came out to her. "Jofrid," he
said, "it is in the house now. It came up and knocked on the edge
of the bed and woke me. What shall we do, Jofrid?"
"The child is dead," said Jofrid. "You know that it is lying deep
under ground. All this is only dreams and imagination." She spoke
hardly and coldly, for she feared that T?ne would do something
reckless, and thereby cause them misfortune.
"We must put an end to it," said T?ne.
Jofrid laughed dismally. "What do you wish to do? God has sent this
to us. Could He not have kept the child alive if He had chosen? He
did not wish it, and now He persecutes us for its death. Tell me by
what right He persecutes us?"
She got her words from the old stone warrior, who sat dark and high
on his pile. It seemed as if he suggested to her everything she
"We must acknowledge that we have neglected the child, and do
penance," said T?ne.
"Never will I suffer for what is not my fault," said Jofrid. "Who
wanted the child to die? Not I, not I. What kind of a penance will
you do? You need all your strength for work."
"I have already tried with scourging," said T?ne. "It is of no avail."
"You see," she said, and laughed again.
"We must try something else," T?ne went on with persistent
determination. "We must confess."
"What do you want to tell God, that He does not know?" mocked
Jofrid. "Does He not guide your thoughts, T?ne? What will you tell
Him?" She thought that T?ne was stupid and obstinate. She had
found him so in the beginning of their acquaintance, but since then
she had not thought of it, but had loved him for his good heart.
"We will confess to the father, Jofrid, and offer him compensation."
"What will you offer him?" she asked.
"The house and the goats."
"He will certainly demand an enormous compensation for his only
son. All that we possess would not be enough."
"We will give ourselves as slaves into his power, if he is not
content with less."
At these words Jofrid was seized by cold despair, and she hated
T?ne from the depths of her soul. Everything she would lose
appeared so plainly to her,?freedom, for which her ancestors had
ventured their lives, the house, her comforts, honor and happiness.
"Mark my words, T?ne," she said hoarsely, half choked with pain,
"that the day you do that thing will be the day of my death."
After that no more words were exchanged between them, but they
remained sitting on the doorstep until the day came. Neither found
a word to appease or to conciliate; each felt fear and scorn of the
other. The one measured the other by the standard of his own anger,
and they found each other narrow-minded and bad-tempered.
After that night Jofrid could not refrain from letting T?ne feel
that he was her inferior. She let him understand in the presence of
others that he was stupid, and helped him with his work so that he
had to think how much stronger she was. She evidently wished to
take away from him all rights as master of the house. Sometimes she
pretended to be very lively, to distract him and to prevent him
from brooding. He had not done anything to carry out his plan, but
she did not believe that he had given it up.
During this time T?ne became more and more as he was before his
marriage. He grew thin and pale, silent and slow-witted. Jofrid's
despair increased each day, for it seemed as if everything was to
be taken from her. Her love for T?ne came back, however, when she
saw him unhappy. "What is any of it worth to me if T?ne is
ruined?" she thought. "It is better to go into slavery with him
than to see him die in freedom."
Jofrid, however, could not at once decide to obey T?ne. She fought
a long and severe fight. But one morning she awoke in an unusually
calm and gentle mood. Then she thought that she could now do what
he demanded. And she waked him, saying that it should be as he
wished. Only that one day he should grant her to say farewell to
The whole forenoon she went about strangely gentle. Tears rose
easily to her eyes. The heath was beautiful that day for her sake,
she thought. Frost had passed over it, the flowers were gone, and
the whole moor had turned brown. But when it was lighted by the
slanting rays of the autumn sun, it looked as if the heather glowed
red once more. And she remembered the day when she saw T?ne for
the first time.
She wished that she might see the old king once more, for he had
helped her to find her happiness. She had been seriously afraid of
him of late. She felt as if he were lying in wait to seize her. But
now she thought he could no longer have any power over her. She
would remember to look for him towards night when the moon rose.
It happened that a couple of wandering musicians came by about
noon. Jofrid had the idea to ask them to stop at her house the
whole afternoon, for she wished to have a dance. T?ne had to
hasten to her parents and ask them to come. And her small brothers
and sisters ran down to the village for the other guests. Soon many
people had collected.
There was great gaiety. T?ne kept apart in a corner of the house,
as was his habit when they had guests, but Jofrid was quite wild in
her fun. With shrill voice she led the dance and was eager in
offering her guests the foaming ale. There was not much room in the
cottage, but the fiddlers were untiring, and the dance went on with
life and spirit. It grew suffocatingly warm. The door was thrown
open, and all at once Jofrid saw that night had come and that the
moon had risen. Then she went to the door and looked out into the
white world of the moonlight.
A heavy dew had fallen. The whole heath was white, as the moon was
reflected in all the little drops, which had collected on every
twig. There T?ne and she would go to-morrow hand in hand to meet
the most terrible dishonor. For, however the meeting with the
peasant should turn out, whatever he might take or whatever he
might let them keep, dishonor would certainly be their lot. They,
who that evening possessed a good cottage and many friends,
to-morrow would be despised and detested by all, perhaps they would
also be robbed of everything they had earned, perhaps, too, be
dishonored slaves. She said to herself: "It is the way of death."
And now she could not understand how she would ever have the
strength to walk in it. It seemed to her as if she were of stone, a
heavy stone image like old King Atle. Although she was alive, she
felt as if she would not be able to lift her heavy stone limbs to
walk that way.
She turned her eyes towards the king's grave and distinctly saw the
old warrior sitting there. But now he was adorned as for a feast.
He no longer wore the gray, moss-grown stone attire, but white,
glittering silver. Now again he wore a crown of beams, as when she
first saw him, but this one was white. And white shone his
breastplate and armlets, shining white were sword, hilt, and
shield. He sat and watched her with silent indifference. The
unfathomable mystery which great stone faces wear had now sunk down
over him. There he sat dark and mighty, and Jofrid had a faint,
indistinct idea that he was an image of something which was in
herself and in all men, of something which was buried in far-away
centuries, covered by many stones, and still not dead. She saw him,
the old king, sitting deep in the human heart. Over its barren
field he spread his wide king's mantle. There pleasure danced,
there love of display flaunted. He was the great stone warrior who
saw famine and poverty pass by without his stone heart being moved.
"It is the will of the gods," he said. He was the strong man of
stone, who could bear unatoned-for sin without yielding. He always
said: "Why grieve for what you have done, compelled by the immortal
Jofrid's breast was shaken by a sigh deep as a sob. She had a
feeling which she could not explain, a feeling that she ought to
struggle with the man of stone, if she was to be happy. But at the
same time she felt helplessly weak.
Her impenitence and the struggle out on the heath seemed to her to
be one and the same thing, and if she could not conquer the first
by some means or other, the last would gain power over her.
She looked back towards the cottage, where the weavings glowed
under the roof timbers, where the musicians spread merriment, and
where everything she loved was, then she felt that she could not go
into slavery. Not even for T?ne's sake could she do it. She saw
his pale face within in the house, and she asked herself with a
contraction of the heart if he was worth the sacrifice of
everything for his sake.
In the cottage the people had started a new dance. They arranged
themselves in a long line, took each other by the hand, and with a
wild, strong young man at the head, they rushed forward at dizzy
speed. The leader drew them through the open door out cm to the
moonlit heath. They stormed by Jofrid, panting and wild, stumbling
against stones, falling into the heather, making wide rings round
the house, circling about the heaps of stones. The last of the line
called to Jofrid and stretched out his hand to her. She seized it
and ran too.
It was not a dance, only a mad rush; but there was pleasure in it,
audacity and the joy of living. The rings became bolder, the cries
sounded louder, the laughter more boisterous. From cairn to cairn,
as they lay scattered over the heath, wound the line of dancers. If
any one fell in the wild swinging, he was dragged up, the slow ones
were driven onward; the musicians stood in the doorway and played
the faster. There was no time to rest, to think, nor to look about.
The dance went on at always madder speed over the yielding moss and
During all this Jofrid felt more and more clearly that she wished
to keep her freedom, that she would rather die than lose it. She
saw that she could not follow T?ne. She thought of running away,
of hurrying into the wood and never coming back.
They had circled about all the cairns except that of King Atle.
Jofrid saw that they were now turning towards it and she kept her
eyes fixed on the stone man. Then she saw how his giant arms were
stretched towards the rushing dancers. She screamed aloud, but she
was answered by loud laughter. She wished to stop, but a strong
grasp drew her on. She saw him snatch at those hurrying by, but
they were so quick that the heavy arms could not reach any of them.
It was incomprehensible to her that no one saw him. The agony of
death came over her. She thought that he would reach her. It was
for her that he had lain in wait for many years. With the others it
was only play. It was she whom he would seize at last.
Her turn came to rush by King Atle. She saw how he raised himself
and bent for a spring to be sure of the matter and catch her. In
her extreme need she felt that if she only could decide to give in
the next day, he would not have the power to catch her, but she
could not.?She came last, and she was swung so violently that she
was more dragged and jerked forward than running herself, and it
was hard for her to keep from falling. And although she passed at
lightning speed, the old warrior was too quick for her. The heavy
arms sank down over her, the stone hands seized her, she was drawn
into the silvery harness of that breast. The agony of death took
more and more hold of her, but she knew to the very last that it
was because she had not been able to conquer the stone king in her
own heart that Atle had power over her.
It was the end of the dancing and merriment. Jofrid lay dying. In
the violence of their mad rout, she had been thrown against the
king's cairn and received her death-blow on its stones.